The privacy labels that Apple now requires for apps on its App Store are proving a nightmare for developers, prompting complaints from companies that have been abusing this privacy for years, such as Facebook, which has decided to turn the issue into a casus belli.
The tags in question are easy to find: just go to the App Store, search for a particular application or click on our profile to see the ones we have downloaded, and scroll down in their description. The design work carried out by Apple makes the labels reasonably clear and easy to understand, and gives us an idea of how the application in question functions. Objecting to such labelling is clearly an attempt to prevent users from knowing what’s going on with their data.
The comparison with the labelling of food products, the so-called nutrition facts, introduced in the United States in 1990, is apposite: at first, many brands said such labeling confused users or forced them to include certain additives or address issues such as the amount of fat in a product. Over time, however, users became more familiar with the label, learned what should be cause for alarm and what should not, and today, few people would buy foodstuffs lacking detailed information about their contents.
It’s exactly the same with privacy: for many years, we had to install applications and products without having any idea how their use affected our privacy or what personal data they used and how. If you wanted to know more, you had to go into the application itself, where the manufacturer could, if it saw fit, detail those uses in the format it considered most appropriate. The result is what we all know: practically nobody looked for that information, and if they did find it, it was difficult to find out what it meant, what specific data was affected, and what was really at stake.
It is in this context of obscurity and ambiguity that many companies have managed to build their empires. The fact that Apple is now trying to impose clarity on privacy, and that it intends to continue advancing and detailing, for example, the exchange of data between applications, affects us in the same way: at first it generates alarm and outrage, but over time, users learn to recognize what each feature implies, to compare them with each other, and to be increasingly clear about what they imply. Anyone can immediately understand, just by comparing their privacy labels, what it implies to use WhatsApp or Facebook Instant Messenger instead of iMessage or Signal, for instance. Attempting to prevent this progress toward greater clarity and to keep us in the dark is simply an attempt to continue taking advantage of people’s ignorance.
It is still too early to try to evaluate the move: there are still many apps that have not yet detailed their privacy conditions — they are obliged to do so when they send a new update — and, in some cases, there are also apps that lie or hide the fact that they use certain data. Over time, we will see complaints about this type of cheating, and Apple will impose penalties on wrongdoers as a result. As always, time will tend to set things right.
In the meantime, consumers are attracted by the idea of privacy, with Apple reporting significant growth in all its product categories, and enjoying its best sales since it started selling smartphones. The market is evolving, others will soon be forced to copy Apple, people will soon have a better understanding of the importance of privacy, and being the leader of such change clearly has its advantages.
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